DENVER -- I'll be heading to the Baltimore Ravens' season opener a little later, and the strange part is Ray Lewis and Ed Reed won't be. Life without the two future Hall of Fame players officially begins Thursday night in the season opener against the Broncos.
The Ravens have had either Lewis or Reed on the field for 117 straight games, or a span of nearly seven and a half seasons. That streak obviously ends with Lewis retired and Reed playing for Houston. Since 2002, when Reed entered the NFL, the Ravens have been without Lewis and Reed for only five games (all in 2005). Baltimore went 1-4 with both Lewis and Reed sidelined, giving up an average of 25.2 points.
We'll see if the Ravens fare better in their new era Thursday night. Here's your wake-up caw ...
The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec tackled the big issue facing the Ravens this season: Replacing the leadership void left by Lewis and Reed. While many wonder whether the team can handle this loss, former Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce gave another viewpoint, saying the leadership questions are "completely overblown." Said Pryce: "The leader of the team is John Harbaugh, and he has no problem telling you that. He's the guy in charge. Fans are going to miss their leadership. The players are just going to miss them as people. That's how it is. They'll be fine. Trust me." The answer is no one will really know how much the Ravens will miss them until they're put in a difficult situation. That's when the new leaders will have to step up.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark, two of Peyton Manning's former targets, don't have to stop the Denver Broncos quarterback. But they do know what it's going to take to beat him. “We’re going to have to play a really good game and score a lot of points, because he’s going to get his points," Stokley told the team's website. Added Clark: “I love the defense we have, but Peyton is special."
The Ravens' unofficial theme for this season is stay hungry, The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston writes. "Last year's champions are last year's champions and this year's champions will be this year's champions, and that's a fact," coach John Harbaugh said. "The one and only thing I have said about repeating is that this is a great opportunity and that this year's Ravens team is the only one with that opportunity. Thirty-one others won't, and that's unique."
Even though he was limited to one preseason game, guard Marshal Yanda is set to start in the season opener. "Ready to go," Yanda told Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. "I feel good." Everyone knows Yanda is one of the best guards in the NFL. But, after seeing how the offensive line struggled without him, there's a new appreciation for Yanda.
Get your stopwatches ready. According to Football Outsiders (via The Baltimore Sun), the Ravens and Broncos are among the three fastest-paced offenses in the NFL. At an average of 27.54 seconds of game clock per offensive play, the Ravens had the third-fastest offensive pace in the NFL last season. The Broncos were second at 27.45 seconds. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who ran more offensive plays than any other team, led the NFL at 24.53 seconds.
Following the same schedule as last year, the Ravens arrived in Denver roughly 24 hours before kickoff to minimize the negative effects of altitude on the players, The Baltimore Sun reported. Most the Ravens are experts when it comes to handling the Mile High altitude after playing two overtimes eight months ago.
Matt Birk, the Ravens' former center, is not suiting up Thursday night. But that didn't stop him from delivering another shot at the Broncos. Birk posted on Twitter: "Why are Broncos upset about Flacco banner hanging from their stadium. Not like its a picture of Jacoby Jones. #stillstings #sorry #SNF"